Adapting for profit my own work, portions of which I released under CC
December 2, 2014 7:31 PM   Subscribe

For a couple chapters of a book I'm writing, I could choose to adapt short stories that I already released under a Creative Commons license. Even with the adapted chapters, the book would be 95% new material. What are the implications of mixing the new material with the CC material?

Awhile back I posted some short stories to a site that uses a Creative Commons license (specifically, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0, AKA "CC BY-SA 3.0"). I realized that I liked writing in the genre and so now I'm working on a book. I'd like to adapt the short stories into chapters of the book.

What are the implications of doing this? Is there a possibility that I could accidentally wind up making the entire book CC? Since my right to use the short stories doesn't come via the CC, I'm hoping that it wouldn't "contaminate" the rest of the book with CC-ness the way it would if I used someone else's CC material. But that's just a guess.

And yes, I did try reading the license.

Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by internet_explorer to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In the U.S., unless you have made other agreements to the contrary, you are always free to repurpose your own work -- that's what copyright IS.

The license doesn't apply to you, it applies to other people.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:46 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

My not-a-lawyer understanding is that the license you put in place is for other people, you are still free to

1. do whatever you want with your own content that you own the rights to
2. change the license of the thing you own the rights to within the agreements that you already made

So to non-lawyer me, what this means is that you can write your book but that anything that is basically the same as the stuff on the website can still be shared per the terms on that website. If you adapt it you can smack whatever license on it that you want. Other people will still have access to the CC-by-SA stuff and can go sell it or do whatever but that doesn't give them the rights to the reworked stuff that you made which is your new stuff.

That said I think some of this depends on whether you gave up your own rights to the item to the website that has the CC-by-SA on it, or if you just put your stuff up there licensed in that way. So like sometimes I write for other people and they own the rights to it (if they paid me for it and we have a contract and blabla) and then I'd be more limited. If you own the rights, you can do what you want.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's my (also not-a-lawyer) understanding. You can always re-license something you've published. Others who have already used the work are still protected for their use, and their continued use. That's the point of the license, to tell other people you're okay with it if they utilize your work in a number of ways, provided they do a number of specific things depending on the version.

One thing I heard a ways back that might be an issue, however, is publishers not wanting to touch things they aren't the first outlet for. Publishing on the internet does count, I seem to remember from creative writing classes, as prior publication. Don't know if this has changed or if your publisher doesn't mind.
posted by JHarris at 9:21 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: IAMAL, IAMNYL, but I studied copyright law extensively in law school, got a specialized "intellectual property" degree, and since graduating have consulted and litigated on copyright cases. Although it is now a tiny, tiny part of my practice.

That license is a mess, I have all sorts of problems with it, and can see future protection of your work being messed up by it.

I won't give you legal advice online, but if you really want an answer to this question, you're going to need a lawyer to walk you through it. Copyright information, online, is filled with disinformation and people who refuse to accept the law is the way it is, because they don't like it and will loudly claim copyright and licensing works the way they wish it did rather than the way it does.

My none legal advice is to stay away from the mess entirely. You released the works under that license, it's done. Even if the license revokable, someone out there may have relied on the license to the point you it's not revokable as to them. It's a litigate-able mess and you don't want to start you career with a litigate-able mess.

Write new stuff with new characters, you have done it once, you can do it again. If you're in love with the stories you already wrote "file off the serial numbers" 50 Shades of Grey style.
posted by bswinburn at 11:17 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: [Semi-sidenote: If this book you're working on is already being offered to a publishing house, ie. they have lawyers, they'll probably want to know about this and may Have Strong Opinions about it beyond the immediate question here.]

Talk to a lawyer, etc. as bswinburn says.
There are definitely readings of Share-Alike that consider it to be "viral," as you're concerned about. While it makes a certain intuitive sense to think the provisions are intended for others using your work, something in the back of my head keeps wondering if that's really consistent. But I'm not sure I've ever seen anything directly addressing whether CC restrictions apply back to the original author creating derivative works. If they do, though, note that adapting versus "collecting" (sections 1A & 1B) these stories seems like it would very likely create a problem.

If you're really talking about ~5% of the content, I would give serious thought to whether it's easier and cheaper to just write around that/create new chapters. Otherwise, if it becomes a problem later because someone else disagrees with your interpretation, you're going to end up talking to a lawyer anyway but it's probably going to be a lot more expensive.
posted by Su at 3:53 AM on December 3, 2014

IANAL, but if you can enter into separate non-CC agreements with users of your CC-licensed work, for example "offer commercial permissions [for your CC-NC material] to fee-paying customers", it would be pretty awful if you couldn't give yourself the same permission.

As I understand it, the question is not about revoking the CC-BY-SA license to the existing work now that you're commercializing it (which, you can't), it's about whether the fact that the existing work was available under ShareAlike (SA) will make the rest of the book SA too. Now if it were somebody else putting your work in their book, this would be a valid concern, but still not a dealbreaker: if they wanted to use your work without being "infected" by SA, they would have to ask you, and you would have the right to give them permission to do so (effectively, providing them a separate non-CC license to the work). So I would imagine you could give yourself that permission too. But again, IANAL.
posted by narain at 5:40 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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